Ah, the holidays: twinkling string lights, deckled halls, sequin dresses, roasted meat, that one drunk, combative relative, and maybe even chestnuts roasting on an open fire. This winter I challenge you to improve the quality of your holiday captures, even if you’re only using the camera in your iPhone.

Toddler reading menu in San FranciscoToddler reading menu in San Francisco

1. Get comfortable with your camera

Even if you’re shooting with an iPhone, invest 20 minutes googling tips and tricks to harness the full capabilities of your iPhone camera. Understanding some of the technical features of your camera will make a huge difference in the quality of photograph you are able to achieve.

2. Aim for a Single Ideal Photograph

Yes, you read that right- one perfect photograph. Realistically, you aren’t going to want an entire album worth of snapshots from Christmas. Why not try to capture the perfect picture that sums it all up? Instead of holding a camera to your face the entire evening, consider planning a single, well executed photograph, and then set your camera down so you’ll have two hands for pie and coffee.

2. Compose Thoughtfully

When you walk into the family Christmas Party, cast your eye across all the different locations in the room. What’s the prettiest area? What’s the best lit? What spaces give the most information about the nature of the event? What areas could comfortably fit multiple people on different levels (i.e. the couch, on the plush rug, near the tree and a window.) The setting is as important to the photograph as the subject so don’t try to make that gorgeous holiday photo with a bag of trash resting against a door in the background.

3. Try a “Documentary” Photograph

“Documentary” means creating a photograph without intervening yourself. Consider which naturally occurring scene unfolding before you best exemplifies the event (your grandmother in a recliner, lovingly reading to your son? your mother screaming directives at your father from the center of a ravaged kitchen?) Assume a “fly on the wall” position and take a capture of the day exactly as it occurred.

toddler in cafe in San Franciscotoddler in cafe in San Francisco

4. Try a Lifestyle Photograph

Lifestyle photography involves gentle guidance, (such as suggesting the family gather by the Christmas Tree) followed by documenting natural interactions. Yan Palmer has a technique called the “Fall Apart Pose” where she essentially squishes her subjects together in a good location and then captures as they “fall apart” with wonderful results.

Toddler walking in cafe with crayons by Rachel Sima PhotographyToddler walking in cafe with crayons by Rachel Sima Photography

5. Skip the “camera aware” pictures this year

You know the ones- everyone clustered together, shoulder to shoulder, and smiling directly at the camera. Those photographs are boring, rarely well staged or executed, and tell the viewer nothing about the experience of the day. SKIP IT.

A Holiday Photo Challenge for You